BLAIS RACING SERVICES RACE REPORT!
By: Chris Blais & Jeremy Gray, 1st Place Overall 4 wheel vehicle!
What an Adventure! The Sonora Rally has been on my list of races to do in my lifetime. I really wanted to participate in 2018 but I had just built my Can-Am X3 and wasn’t ready yet, so I held off. When the entry opened up for the 2019 Sonora Rally, my wife said “We are going so sign up now!” I mean, how do you argue with that? So I signed up myself and my Co-Driver, Jeremy Gray, and told him “It’s time to learn how to read a roadbook!” I have to say I was extremely excited and nervous all at the same time for this race. It has been 12 years since I was paralyzed in 2007, while being a Factory Red Bull/ KTM Rally Racer.
I knew I could still navigate and work with my co-driver Jeremy for a good result, but you never really know until you get out there and race. Also, I still wasn’t sure how many miles my body would be able to handle. Scott Whitney had supplied us with some practice roadbooks that we did a few months ago so Jeremy could get familiar with navigating using a roadbook. I set up my navigation equipment in the middle of the car so I could drive and also help navigate when needed. Jeremy caught on pretty fast but he had no idea what he was in for when we brought up the speed.
I was confident we could come into this and win but there was some good competition and heavy hitters signed up. Dave Sykes, the Murray Brothers, P.J. Jones, Christina Giampaoli, Joe Bolton, and Luis Pelayo were some of the awesome drivers on the 20-car field entry list.
I went into Day 1 of the rally planning on charging while everyone was getting settled into the 5-day, 1000+ mile rally. On Day 1, we did just that and won the day with a 40- minute lead. Many drivers had speed zone and waypoint penalties that hurt their results. After having that nice cushion, I went into Day 2, which would be the big dune day, just wanting to get through it and make it to the finish without any issues.
Day 2 would be a struggle for us. About 80 kilometers into the day we had some big dunes. We went up this huge dune that we could barely climb in our Can-Am X3. We ended up carrying too much speed over the crest at the top. We did a full send and the first thing to hit the other side was the top of the front bumper which sent us cartwheeling. My first instinct when he hit the roof was to grab some throttle and hold the steering wheel straight. When the front wheels hit the sand again, the car pulled out of the front flip thankfully. By the time we actually stopped the car, we were still only halfway down this huge dune! It had to have been 700-800 feet tall. It’s never a good idea to run out of talent on the biggest dune I have ever seen. After that, Jeremy had to check his shorts, then we regrouped and got back on track. We were definitely gun-shy on climbing dunes at this point and went around a lot of the bigger dunes when we didn’t feel comfortable. By doing this, we added a lot of mileage and made it more difficult for ourselves to find the waypoints. We spent a lot of extra time finding a couple of waypoints out there but we did find them and didn’t incur any penalties. This was a very rough day for us and one of the worst days racing I have had in a long time. We finished the day and come to find out, we placed 2nd UTV on Stage 2! I couldn’t believe it but a lot of drivers had much worse days than we did out there.
Day 3 we were finally getting out of the sand and dunes. Both myself and Jeremy were excited to get back on familiar desert terrain. We started out 2nd and made some time up on the leader then got passed by Pelayo who was moving good. I knew I had a good lead so I just needed to focus on good navigation and keeping the car together. The three of us made a navigation error in the big wash and had to turn around. I was first to get back on track but many cars had caught up to us after we got back on track. There was a freight train of 8 UTV’s battling it out and going for it. I decided to pull over and I let 6 cars go by me. We drove just out of the dust and focused on good navigation. At the next pavement stop many drivers were searching for the waypoint. We passed 5 cars in this process of them trying to find the waypoint and were back in the lead group. We had drivers coming back towards us at full race speed that missed the waypoint and had to go back. It was crazy! This entire day was some of the most fun terrain I have ever raced in! There were tight flowing and twisty roads barely wide enough for our Can-Am. We put in another flawless day and extended our lead some more. The Murray’s were getting the hang of the navigation part of the rally by now and we ran with them most of the day.
In the Bivouac after Day 3, we were prepping our car and noticed some small frame cracks in the rear section. My car has over 5,000 race miles on it now and starting to show some wear. The only ones with a welder were the Monkey Business team with the 2nd place driver, Luis Pelayo. They were kind enough to lend us a hand and help us weld up the cracks so we could continue. One of the things I like about rally so much is everyone helps each other no matter what. It’s definitely a Gentleman’s sport.
I went into the last two days just needing to put in solid days at a fast trail ride pace. Pelayo and Dave Sykes had an epic battle going for the 2nd place position. Both of these drivers caught me and I let them by so they could battle it out.
Day 4 was fun and had very challenging navigation with turns and junctions, 0.1 KM apart or less. This really tested my Co-Driver Jeremy and worked him over pretty well. We made a lot of small mistakes but it didn’t really cost us much time. Jeremy was exhausted and a little overwhelmed but he pulled through again.
Coming into the last day, we just needed to finish the rally. We led out again and were caught by the next 2 drivers that we let pass. We got turned around a little in one spot and took our time to make sure we were on the right path and didn’t miss any waypoints. We finished back a little ways but that was ok with me. Coming into the finish was such an awesome feeling of relief and thankfulness. What an accomplishment and awesome race!!
I couldn’t have asked for a better rally. I only really had to race the car on Day 1 and half of Day 3. The rest of the time I was able to conserve the car and myself. We ran the car on ECO mode the entire rally which is only 70% power so we wouldn’t have any belt, motor or power train issues. We were just smart and stuck to our original plan and it all worked out. One of the reasons I like rally so much is it’s about the whole package. It has never been about who is the fastest rider or driver, but who is the best all around.
Congrats to everyone racing this event that finished! The UTV pace was higher than I was expecting it to be and 75% of the cars finished after 1000 miles of tough racing. These cars have come a long way and it’s exciting to see the drivers’ interest in the Dakar Rally and representing the USA. It was great meeting the Murray brothers, sharing car prep and some of my rally expertise. I sure hope to see them at Dakar some day!
Thank you to my awesome pit crew for all their support. Gilbert Davila and my Dad Martin Blais did a killer job on our gas stops and keeping the car prepped all week. Thank you to my wife, Patty Blais, for always pushing me to pursue my dreams and supporting me in everything I do. Thank you to my co-driver’s wife, Stephanie Gray, for all your hard work and putting up with us all week. Great job to my Co-Driver, Jeremy Gray, who kicked butt at navigating! You did awesome for a first-timer and had some big shoes to fill. I pushed him hard and he definitely pulled through.
Not only was the racing epic, the locations were epic. Every night we had amazing beach sunsets and delicious food. The people in every town of Mexico were gracious and loved seeing our race machines. Can’t wait to go back!
I can’t thank everyone enough, from prep help over the past few weeks and months; my shop helper and friend, Kyle Carpenter, our crazy “neighbor John” who let me borrow his cargo trailer for the race and who comes over daily to check on me and help me with anything I need in the shop and with my car, and our friend B.J. who made us our awesome auxiliary gas tank which we definitely needed to be able to race this rally.
To all of our awesome sponsors/friends whose products are top-notch and were definitely put the test during this race. I can’t do any of this without your products and support, so thank you! Some of you have been with me since my bike racing days – thank you for that. My suspension just keeps getting better and better. It’s amazing thanks to Tom Morris. And to all who believe in us, follow us, encourage us, pray for us, support us – THANK YOU!!
Tom Morris/ UTVShocks.com (Best shock tuner I have ever had a chance to work with)
Eibach Springs (Best springs around that don’t sag!)
KWI Clutching (Kris Werth is the man! My car rips and not a single belt issue all year)
RJ Fabrication (For the best looking car & roll cage out there)
Kenda Tires (Mastodon HT’s kick butt)
Raceline Wheels (Not a single wheel problem all year)
Baja Designs (Best lighting around, my sponsor for almost 20 years)
Impact Safety (Best helmets a guy could ask for)
PWR Tune (Awesome performance and customer support)
EPowerSteering (HD power steering unit so I can easily drive one handed)
Safecraft (Auto fire suppression to keep me safe as it’s harder for me to get out of the car)
Zollinger Racing Products (Amazing quality knuckles & hubs to handle the abuse)
RokBlokz (Sweet mud flaps and trailing arm guards)
Sector Seven (Mirrors that you can actually see out of and lights that work amazing)
Teixeira Tech (The best radius rods around)
Blud Lubricants (Best oil around)
Pops Powders (All our powdercoating needs)
If your company is interested in working with us for 2019 let us know. With our race team, we are able to promote your products along with selling them in our on-line store and shop!